Raleigh tries on Durham's shoe, doesn't like how it fits
BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for November 21, 2008

Bonfield steers new course for City government

New city manager Tom Bonfield has been clear for some time that he had a new organizational direction in mind for City Hall. That new vision came clear on Thursday with the unveiling of the new structure for the city.

It's a sweeping change, and one which, frankly, creates a logical, understandable organization that makes sense in its direction. Under the new structure, there are three "theme areas" or teams of departments, each under a deputy city manager:

  • Operations, including public works, fire, water, police, emergency communications, parks, solid waste, transit, and general services -- under the umbrella of Ted Voorhees. (The public safety departments will continue to report to Bonfield directly but will be under Voorhees' team for cross-group planning and operational efforts.)
  • Administration and Support, with finance, budget, HR, IT, and other support departments -- reporting to Wanda Page.
  • Community Building, which unites the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, community development, Neighborhood Improvement Services, City/County Planning, and the Human Relations Commission. A third deputy city manager will be brought on to manage this area, with Bonfield maanging these areas in the interim.

Who are the big winners in this one? Neighborhoods, for one, with the unification of functions that support community-oriented and quality of life initiatives grouped into one deputy city manager's portfolio. Essentially, the structure to me looks to have the Community Building team responsible for growing and improving the city, with Operations taking care of day-to-day management and maintenance.

Intriguingly, it also gives top-line attention to community needs in a way that draws recollection to the Durham People's Alliance's call for "a neighborhood advocate at the assistant city manager level."

Calling for this new position in this spring's budget season, John Schelp and Christina Rausch wrote, "The neighborhood advocate should be an attorney or an experienced city planner who would help tackle many of the issues raised throughout the year and at 'Coffees with Council.' The new position would assist neighborhoods and would evaluate rezonings, planning initiatives and board of adjustment matters independently of other departments."

As envisioned, this position is different (and broader) but still escalates and unifies departments with the most interaction on neighborhood matters. The H-S notes that Durham's transportation department might eventually be moved into this group, a move that would make sense for a team primarily oriented towards road planning, traffic studies and the like, while public works actually constructs and paves roads.

Meantime, a sore-spot area in the administration gets given higher priority, with transit moving out from underneath Transportation, where Bonfield noted it had been "buried several layers down." The new transit department will also oversee taxi and parking services.

Importantly, Bonfield is emphasizing the role of departmental directors in carrying out their responsibilities, not passing them up the chain to deputy CMs or the city manager's office -- something that's happened all too often. As the H-S points out, Bonfield emphasizes that the deputy city managers will be holding directors accountable and ensuring communication across group silos.

On a personal level, though both Voorhees and Page see their existing responsibilities change, Voorhees really finds himself with significantly more responsibility in the realignment.

Voorhees -- a respected pro around City Hall who just lost out on the Gaithersburg, Md. city manager slot earlier this year -- gained solid waste, parks & rec and general services from Page in the re-org. The first two of these departments have had checkered reputations for success, while general services has struggled at times with overseeing bond-funded projects.

At the same time, Voorhees gives up the Planning department, which has strong leadership in place in Steve Medlin and seems a "safe move" to a newly-hired deputy city manager.

Page, meanwhile, loses NIS and community development in addition to the others, taking her out of the chain of responsibility for city services impacting residents directly.

The consolidation of operational responsibilities in Voorhees seems a good fit given his use as a "troubleshooter" for issues like the drought, in which the deputy CM found himself with significant fix-it responsibilities, while allowing him to expand his base of experience -- and creating an attractive position in turn to attract Voorhees' eventual successor.

All in all, it's a very good set of moves by Bonfield, who gets praise in today's N&O from elected officials and residents alike for a smooth, solid transition into Durham leadership.


Michael Bacon

This looks fantastic. Here's hoping...


I'm wondering why the city couldn't find anyone for the Community Building position within their ranks. I can think of a few folks that would've been nice for that position. I guess they weren't considered to be of significant stature to elevate to a deputy city manager position, though.


This is an excellent move by the City Manager. I see this position as being a Chief Development Officer for the City. As was stated before, this role could be an expanded version of the "neighborhood advocate" that some organizations have pushed for.

This position has the potential to be very visible in Durham and the region so you would need someone with right blend of community and economic development knowledge as well as planning dexterity. They would need to have a clear vision of where Durham wants and needs to be within the next 10 - 20 years.

I think I just wrote a job description. LOL

I just hope this position doesn't become another administrator who is a conduit to the City Manager's office. In other words, they should provide strategic direction while the Directors execute and manage the plan.


I'm most excited about giving Transit more autonomy. DATA has been buried in the hierarchy for far too long - this move will hopefully give it more visibility within the City's structure. It's no accident that Chapel Hill Transit is a department unto itself rather than having to go through Public Works.

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